Can He Grab It?

01.27.13

Obama's Dodge on Executive Power

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You should read the New Republic's big interview with President Obama. One disappointment was the failure of Chris Hughes to press the president on his evolving views on executive authority.

Asked if those views had changed, Obama skipped past major executive actions such as his "kill list," his deferred action for young illegal immigrants, and his administration's potential actions (via the EPA) to dramatically shift carbon regulation:

I don't think it's changed. I continue to believe that whenever we can codify something through legislation, it is on firmer ground. It's not going to be reversed by a future president. It is something that will be long lasting and sturdier and more stable.

So a great example of that is the work we did on "don't ask, don't tell." There were advocates in the LGBT community who were furious at me, saying, "Why don't you just sign with a pen ordering the Pentagon to do this?" And my argument was that we could build a coalition to get this done, that having the Pentagon on our side and having them work through that process so that they felt confident they could continue to carry out their missions effectively would make it last and make it work for the brave men and women, gays and lesbians, who were serving not just now but in the future.

And the proof of the pudding here is that not only did we get the law passed, but it's caused almost no controversy. It's been almost thoroughly embraced, whereas had I just moved ahead with an executive order, there would have been a huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time.

But what I do see is that there are certain issues where a judicious use of executive power can move the argument forward or solve problems that are of immediate-enough import that we can't afford not to do it. And today, just to take an example, the notion that we wouldn't be collecting information on gun violence just to understand how it happens, why it happens, what might reduce it—that makes no sense. We shouldn't require legislation for the CDC to be able to gather information about one of the leading causes of death in the United States of America.